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Citizens of War-Torn Congo Await the Outcome of Historic Elections

This is Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo had to wait a long time for the elections last Sunday. It was the first time in almost a half-century that there were candidates from more than one party. Great numbers of people voted in the presidential and legislative elections. But a slow start to counting votes means another wait.

Early reports suggested that President Joseph Kabila faced his strongest competition from Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba. More than thirty presidential candidates were on the ballot. If no one gets fifty percent of the vote, citizens will choose between the two top candidates in October.

President Kabila heads a large coalition of parties. Mister Bemba is a former leader of a rebel force. Several human rights groups have accused him of major violations. He is one of four vice presidents in a temporary government of national unity.

Almost ten thousand candidates competed for the five hundred seats in the national legislature. Thousands more ran for local legislatures.

Final results are not expected for about three weeks.

The United Nations helped organize the elections. U.N. peacekeeping troops and a force from Gabon assisted with security. The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, is a huge country in Central Africa with sixty million people.

The U.N. Security Council praised the millions who, it said, took part "freely and peacefully, in democratic elections of historical importance for their nation." It also appealed to the Congolese people "to receive the results with the same spirit of civic responsibility."

Most foreign observers were satisfied with the voting process. But several presidential candidates say there was cheating. They include former rebel leader Azarias Ruberwa. He was supported by Rwanda during the years of civil war in which almost four million people died in Congo. A number of nations took part in the fighting between nineteen ninety-six and two thousand two.

The main opposition party, led by Etienne Tshisekedi, boycotted the elections. Some local election officials accused his supporters of setting fire to election centers and voting materials in a diamond-mining city.

Mister Tshisekedi became active in politics in nineteen sixty. That was the year Congo won independence from Belgium.

In nineteen ninety-seven Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, ousted the longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Joseph Kabila became president after his father was killed at his palace in two thousand one.

Supporters say Joseph Kabila united the rebels to help end the war. Critics say he should not lead Congo because he was not born there -- something he denies.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written this week by Jerilyn Watson. You can read transcripts of our shows and listen online at